Feb
15
2009

John at Grasping for the Wind has another meme. Given the success of the last one, I figured I’d better add to the list. The instructions are as follows:
Here is how it works: Find a favorite book, movie, or videogame review (Science fiction and fantasy related) that you have written, no matter where it was posted, and add it to the following list. Make sure to repost the whole list, because in doing so, we accumulate what the reviewers themselves think is their best work, and give each other some linkages, increasing everyone’s rankings.

Use the format of [Blog /Website Name] – [Book Name in CAPS w/ Link] by [Book Author Name]

It was hard to pick just one, but I ended up going with The Book of Joby (after considering Archangel Protocol, Blood and Iron, The Player of Games, and Maledicte).

The Book Review Meme @ Grasping for the Wind

1. Grasping for the Wind – INFOQUAKE by David Louis Edelman
2. Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books – A COMPANION TO WOLVES by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
3. Dragons, Heroes and Wizards – ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb
4. Walker of Worlds – THE TEMPORAL VOID by Peter F Hamilton
5. Neth Space – TOLL THE HOUNDS by Steven Erikson
6. Dark in the Dark – GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY by M.R. James
7. A Dribble of Ink – THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
8. Fantasy Book News & Reviews – EMPRESS by Karen Miller
9. Fantasy Debut – ACACIA by David Anthony Durham Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Overall Review Afterthought
10. All Booked Up – THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley
11. Fantasy Cafe – THE BOOK OF JOBY by Mark J. Ferrari
12. AzureScape – ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson
13. The Book Smugglers – THE INFERIOR by Peadar O’Guilin
14. Besotted Bookworm – PARANORMAL FICTION FEAST by Christine Feehan, Julie Kramer, and Jayne Castle
15. Renee’s Book Addiction – WANDERLUST by Ann Aguirre
16. SciFiGuy.ca – THE BLACK SHIP by Diana Pharaoh Francis
17. Literary Escapism – FOR A FEW DEMONS MORE by Kim Harrison (with spoilers)
18. Speculative Horizons – THE TERROR by Dan Simmons
19. Stella Matutina – NEW AMSTERDAM by Elizabeth Bear
20. Variety SF – MISSION OF GRAVITY by Hal Clement
21. WISB/F&SF Lovin’ Blog – SEABORN by Chris Howard
22. Highlander’s Book reviews – A MADNESS OF ANGELS by Kate Griffin
23. The Old Bat’s Belfry – THE CROWN CONSPIRACY by Michael J. Sullivan
24. Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews – THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
25. The Sci-Fi Gene – PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Mieville
26. Against the Nothing – MAY BIRD AND THE EVER AFTER by Jodi Lynn Anderson
27. Flight into Fantasy – AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman
28. Subliminal Intervention – UNWIND by Neal Shusterman
29. Items of Interest – BITTEN TO DEATH by Jennifer Rardin
30. Necromancy Never Pays– FICTION AND LIES by Daniel Waters

Edit: Updated book review list – 03/06/09

Feb
14
2009


Kristen and I saw Coraline tonight…excellent job overall. The pacing seemed a bit off to me, a little slow to get going, a little quick at the finish, but it came through with all the wonderfully screwed-up humor and perspective I’ve come to expect from Neil Gaiman. I haven’t read the book, or any of Gaiman’s “children’s” books, actually–being a grad student and teaching four courses a semester has annexed most of the time I’d normally dedicate to such things–but I may have to pick it up.

I thought the stop-motion animation style really fits the attitude that pervades Coraline and many of Gaiman’s other works. Though Dave McKean and company did some fantastic work on Mirrormask, the visual style never completely clicked for me. Obviously there’s a tremendous difference in budget there, but as in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and other similar films the aesethetics of stop-motion added tremendously to both the wild imagination and childlike perspective of the movie. If Coraline had been done as either pure CGI or mixed live-action and effects it would have been too much glitz. For example, the opening sequence consisted of nothing more than restuffing a doll, but the visuals were creepy, grotesque, and charming all at once, which is more than could have been asked for from CGI…but exactly what the story needed.

I also have to say that I loved Gaiman’s take on the Cheshire Cat, as well as the whole Alice in Wonderland transfomation in general. It was a little painful to sit through what I’d call an extended setup showing how Coraline’s parents were ignoring her. (Though, I’d have to say she didn’t help the situation since she passed up the one time her mother did reach out to her, so it’s not all a bad-parent sort of story.) It didn’t seem to fit the rest of the story since those sort of extended sledgehammer-to-the-forehead type backstories are usually a feature of stories targeted at young children while the rest of the movie was decidedly adult in complexity and theme, but maybe I’m just missing how they expect young children to enjoy the second half of the movie because I was so absorbed in interpreting it on a different level.

Anyway, short version is: good flick, go see it.

Childhood’s End
by Arthur C. Clarke
256pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.94/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.01/5

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke has become a classic of science fiction since its publication in 1953 and has been very influential in the genre. This fairly short, stand alone novel is light on characterization but heavy on ideas. For some reason I’d categorized this book in my head as “scary science fiction” that I’d probably find dry or difficult to read, but that was not the case at all. Although I did find it moved slowly toward the middle, it was a very thoughtful book and I enjoyed it very much.

Childhood’s End is divided into three parts, each exploring a different theme. The first section deals with the arrival of a fleet of spaceships in the sky over Earth, beginning the reign of the aliens known as the Overlords. These Overlords create a peaceful utopia in which not even cruelty to animals exists. Their leader, Karellen, will only speak to Rikki Stormgren, the Secretary General of the United Nations, although none of the Overlords will allow any human to know what they look like. Because of this, people distrust the aliens even though they have made the world a better place for its inhabitants. Rikki informs Karellen that humanity would feel better if they knew what the Overlords look like, but Karellen says that the people of Earth are not yet ready to handle the knowledge of their new ruler’s appearance. Once 50 years have passed and most people do not remember a time without the Overlords, Karellen and his kind will reveal themselves.

The second part of the story is about the golden age that appears once humanity has accepted the Overlords. Poverty and war are nonexistent, crime is exceedingly rare, and no one has to work if they do not want to. However, creativity and scientific discovery have dwindled – after all, what is the point of exploring new theories when the Overlords have known about them for ages? Also, it remains to be seen why the aliens are interested in Earth and if there is a price to be paid for their influence, which is the topic of the third and final section.


Despite being over fifty years old, much of the power of Childhood’s End is still in the revelations that unfold throughout the course of the story. Because of this I am only going to speak in very general terms here, but suffice it to say that I found the various revelations, along with their impact on humanity (both what was discussed and what actually happened), to be the most interesting part of the book and well worth the relatively short time investment required to read the book.

The first section was very intriguing. The changes made by the Overlords and the speculation on what they looked like and what they were hiding made me very curious about their true intentions for Earth. I was enjoying reading about the Secretary General’s attempts to see Karellen and when the mystery of the aliens’ appearance was finally cleared up at the end, I thought it was just starting to get good.

I found the story told during humanity’s golden age to be less interesting overall, though there were some interesting aspects to that world. Much of the beginning of this was exposition on the world the Overlords had created, but it was quite fascinating to read about the problems resulting from near perfection since they were so plausible. Even though people were more educated than ever before, creative works drastically decreased. Art and literature are outlets for making statements and if everything is perfect, it does not leave much room for expression and making points about social injustice and conflicts. Once the advantages and disadvantages of the golden age were established, the focus changed to some new characters and events that did not make much sense until later. It was still more drawn out than it needed to be, but it did at least seem as though there was a point to it in the end.

None of the characters were particularly well developed and the only really interesting ones were the mysterious Overlords with their unclear motivation. Throughout this short book, there were several characters who played a role but this was a concept-heavy story and not a character driven one. Although a lack of characterization is often a deal breaker for me, the story was interesting enough that I wanted to find out what happened anyway and read through until the bitter end (which was rather depressing).

Childhood’s End is a thoughtful novel examining society containing a bit of a mystery concerning the Overlords and their intentions for the world. There are some pacing issues and characterization is not explored, but those aspects are not why you read a book like Childhood’s End. It is about reflecting on both our past and our future, and in that area there are many well developed ideas and a fascinating future scenario.

7.5/10

Feb
09
2009

Now that I finally got that Kushiel’s Dart review written, I’ve been working on a review of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. That was one of my “scary science fiction” books and I made it my challenge book for the month of January.

After that, I will be reviewing:

Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin
The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro

I also finished Dead Witch Walking, the first Hollows book by Kim Harrison, last night. Although I’ll be reviewing it, it will be over at The Book Smugglers a little later this month, since they dared me to read it. In return, I dared Ana and Thea to read and review one of my favorite books, Melusine.

In preparation for the movie next month, I’ve just started reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel, and I’ve been reading short stories from Storm Constantine’s The Oracle Lips collection here and there.

Kushiel’s Dart
by Jacqueline Carey
901pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.3/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.48/5

Kushiel’s Dart is the first book in the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. The series contains two related trilogies, each about different main characters with Naamah’s Kiss, the first book in a third trilogy coming out in June 2009. Kushiel’s Dart is followed by Kushiel’s Chosen and Kushiel’s Avatar, and the second trilogy consists of Kushiel’s Scion, Kushiel’s Justice, and Kushiel’s Mercy respectively.

This is one that has sat on my shelf for a while even though I’ve heard a lot about how good it is from many different people. Since I’m not the world’s fastest reader, I found the length of 901 pages a bit daunting and thought I’d have nothing to review for a month if I read a book that long. So I kept putting it off, which is unfortunate because I loved the alternate European setting, the characters, and the world mythology and religion Carey developed in this dark fantasy novel.

Kushiel’s Dart takes place in Terre d’Ange, the equivalent of France in an imaginary medieval Europe. The country was settled by angels who chose to follow Elua, the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, instead of the One God. This god of Terre d’Ange was created when Mary’s tears fell on Christ’s blood after he was pierced and was rejected by the One God. Elua wandered the land with the angels (known as the Companions of Elua) and gave only one commandment: Love as thou wilt. The result is a society populated by the descendants of the companions that considers sex in all forms a holy calling in the service of the angel Naamah. There are thirteen houses of the Night Court whose inhabitants are dedicated as courtesans and work to fill their marque, represented by a tattoo extending from the tailbone to the base of the neck. As they earn money, the ink is gradually drawn in until the entire area is covered and the courtesan is officially free.

As a young child, Phedre is sold to a house of the Night Court by her parents, who are struggling financially and have another child on the way. Because of the flaw of a scarlet mote in her eye, Phedre will never be a courtesan herself – until it is discovered that her defect is actually the mark of Kushiel’s Dart. Kushiel, a companion of Elua, was an angel of punishment and the red fleck in Phedre’s eye symbolizes her ability to experience pain as pleasure. Phedre is then bought by Anafiel Delaunay, who trains her not only as a courtesan but also as an observer and spy. As Phedre becomes further in demand by the nobility of Terre d’Ange, she learns many secrets that will aid her master and eventually leads to her knowledge of a conspiracy against the king.


Kushiel’s Dart intrigued me from the beginning, especially the mythology behind the world and Elua’s teachings. It did take me a while to read the first 125 pages because it often referred to some characters who had not really been present and I found it hard to keep track of who was who. Fortunately, there is a handy glossary in the front that I referenced often and once the book got going, I found I did not need it nearly as much.

Since Phedre is a courtesan and the society has no qualms about sexuality, there is a lot of sex in this book, including BDSM since that is the main character’s special skill. Although it is described in detail, it never seemed cheesy or overdone. Carey does not shy away from specifics but she also writes it in such a straightforward manner that it seems very natural. It did not feel like the sexual encounters were added for shock value since they were very relevant to both the plot and character. Phedre’s clientele are her main way of gathering political information that is useful to Delaunay, and being one touched by Kushiel influences Phedre’s actions and is a strong part of her identity.

The prose is flowery and a bit convoluted. The entire story is told in first person from Phedre’s point of view. At times it is somewhat dramatic, such as at the end of the first chapter when Phedre states: “When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me.” Personally, it didn’t bother me and is exactly the type of writing I enjoy, but I can see how others may find it distracting, especially earlier in the novel.

There is a wide cast of characters and they are well developed. In the beginning, Phedre is a child and the story gradually progresses through the years until she is a young woman. At times, Phedre seems a bit perfect since she does play a big role in important events and is very good at putting the pieces of the puzzle together to reach the correct conclusion. Yet sometimes she does not realize what is happening in time, and she still has insecurities about her gift of Kushiel’s Dart, her intelligence when compared to Delaunay’s other apprentice Alcuin, and Alcuin’s relationship with Delaunay. The minor characters were likable, too, and my favorite was the warrior-monk Joscelin who guarded Phedre. I found his attempt to balance the rules of his order with what is necessary to protect his charge interesting reading and his character underwent many changes throughout the story.

Kushiel’s Dart is a fantasy book that has mythological elements such as some prophecy and legends of gods, and actual magic is a rarity. It is not one of those books with mages throwing fireballs or people with special abilities. However, there is a great balance between a great plot and a character-driven story, lots of political intrigue, adventure, and a love story.

Other than some difficulty with keeping track of various characters and their role in the world in the beginning, the only real problem I had with this novel was that the time spent with the Skaldi was a bit slow and the culture (peopled by stereotypical Nordic barbarians) was not as unique as the land of Terre d’Ange.

Overall, I loved Kushiel’s Dart and the characters, world, and story Carey told. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

8.5/10

Other Reviews:

The Jackal of Nar
by John Marco
768pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.34/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.9/5

The Jackal of Nar, John Marco’s debut novel, is the first book in a completed fantasy trilogy, Tyrants and Kings. It is followed by The Grand Design and concluded with The Saints of the Sword. The Jackal of Nar was unevenly paced, too long, and had a rather stupid main character, yet in spite of that I did find this character-driven novel enjoyable once it hit its stride, particularly for some of the secondary characters.

The technologically advanced empire of Nar is at war with its neighbor Lucel-Lor, led by a powerful magic user said to be blessed by his gods. Prince Richius Vantran of Nar, known to his enemies as Kalak (“The Jackal”), is leading the fight to keep a strategic location from being overrun by enemies. This is a losing battle, especially since the King of Aramoor (Richius’s father), refuses to send soldiers or food in spite of the Emperor’s will that he do all he can to aid the war. Even with their war machines, Richius and his men are near defeat until Blackwood Gayle appears and joins the battle. Although he is on the same side as Richius, Gayle is his bitter enemy and Richius is angered by the victory celebration in which Gayle’s men raid a village and Gayle attempts to rape a young woman. Richius saves the young woman and refuses further assistance from Gayle.

Later, Richius and one of his men take a trip to the nearby town and once again Richius encounters Dyana, the young woman he saved from Gayle. In spite of Richius’s heroics, Dyana despises him since he is the Jackal – but Richius believes Dyana to be the most beautiful woman he has ever seen and is quite obsessed with her. Abandoned by her family, Dyana is now working as a prostitute to earn money and Richius cannot help but purchase a night with her. Later, Richius regrets this and tries to make it up to her. He finds out she was betrothed to Tharn, the leader of Lucel-Lor, and is trying to escape his desperate search for her. Richius tries to protect her and she agrees to go to Nar with him, but she is lost to him in a magical storm created by Tharn – and he cannot forget her.


The Jackal of Nar is often labeled as “military fantasy,” but it did not primarily focus on the warfare, although there was a lot of blood and death. It was somewhat about the politics of the kingdoms, but mostly about the character of Richius. Each section of the book begins with an excerpt from his journal. In the very first 4 pages of the book, he is shown to be a very reflective man attempting to understand the world around him. After working with a member of the Triin race, he has discovered they are just like humans and plans to teach his father this when he gets home. In the beginning, I liked his character because I do like reading about people who can change their beliefs when presented with evidence that the world does not fall into the neat little package they always thought it did. Richius seemed like an overall good guy who tried to do the right thing whether this was taking care of the men under him or preventing Gayle from harming the very people they were supposed to be struggling to protect. He was supposed to be smart, he was supposed to be wonderful at military strategy, but he made so many stupid decisions that I found it hard to connect with him when I really wanted to yell at him for being an idiot. The root of much of Richius’s foolishness was his feelings for Dyana, so I did not find it completely unrealistic since he was one of those people who follows his heart instead of his head – I just couldn’t particularly care about a character whose only major flaw seemed to be moronic decision-making.

As Richius’s obsession, Dyana was an important character but she was also one I never really liked. The whole relationship never rang true to me since Dyana seemed to have stopped hating Richius a little too quickly to be believable. Although he was being very kind to her, she still loathed him after he prevented her imminent rape so I would expect it to take a very long, long time for her to even get to an average level of abhorrence for the man.

Because of this, I found many of the secondary characters far more interesting than Richius or Dyana, particularly Tharn and Voris, the war-leader from Lucel-Lor who first dubbed Richius as “The Jackal.” Tharn was a very gray character who initially appeared corrupt but had motivations behind most of his actions that made him seem at least somewhat sympathetic. Even the horrific action of making Dyana go with him was at least within the realms of culturally acceptable since the entire Triin race did not believe women had any rights. As Tharn’s betrothed, Dyana was his possession as far as he was concerned since that is what he had been raised to believe. (It was fairly late in the book when I came to see Voris as an interesting character so I’m going to avoid discussing him for fear of entering spoiler territory.)

Many of the characters had both good and bad traits, with even some of the more evilly bent characters having valid reasons for their actions. There was still one cookie cutter black-hearted villain, though. Blackwood Gayle never showed any redeeming features and just seemed to be a bad guy because that’s just how he was.

This has been a hard review for me to articulate since I felt that the book had a lot of flaws yet I enjoyed reading it anyway due to the fact that most of the characters were not black or white. The beginning was stilted and a slow, and there were times when I felt it dragged in the middle, but there were also quite a few times where I found myself saying I’d just read one more chapter, then saying it again after reaching the end of that chapter. The end is definitely better than the beginning and The Jackal of Nar is a solid first novel.

6/10

Other Reviews:
SF Site
Speculative Horizons